Milford Sound

This is New Zealand

Adventures around the South Island.

Cassie Matias
Feb 6, 2017 · 9 min read

I’ve wanted to go to Australia and New Zealand for as long as I can remember. Before Remote Year even started, I planned to hit Australia for sure (life goals) but wasn’t sure just how much of New Zealand I’d be able to explore. Then in August, some friends and I made a plan to road trip the South Island of New Zealand for two weeks. I now had my answer.

After several months of planning, research, conversations and lots of excitement, we finally embarked on our road trip at the end of January. Beginning in Christchurch we picked up our camper van, bought some groceries and immediately hit the road going south along the eastern coast. Over the course of the next 15 days we went through wild landscapes that were constantly changing, drove through high winds, hiked in the rain, stood on the southernmost point of the country where trees grow horizontally, helicoptered over glaciers and mountain ranges, swam in lakes and laid out under the stars and beaming Milky Way Galaxy on dark, empty mountain roads at 2am.

All the hype about New Zealand is completely warranted. I’d never seen such drastic change in landscapes in such a concentrated area, nor really understood just how strong Antarctica winds could be when the air stream was allowed to travel 2000 miles uninterrupted. Spoiler: STRONG. The South Island is incredible, inspiring, dramatic, challenging, beautiful and most of all, extraordinarily memorable.


If you’re planning a trip to this country, I hope the below tips and pieces of knowledge are useful. If you aren’t planning a trip to New Zealand, well…I hope all of this inspires you to go. It’s a place that’ll allow you to live and breathe and consume nature as much as possible without a shred of regret. It made me absolutely love camper life, the freedom and spontaneity of travel without an itinerary, and maybe most importantly, road trip sing alongs at the top of our lungs with all the windows down.

Before your trip

- budget how much you want to spend in NZ and then add another $1,000
- follow 100% Pure New Zealand on Instagram for destination ideas
- leverage as much, or as little, of this map I put together as you’d like
- plan for, at minimum, 2 weeks of road tripping
- if your license is in English, you’ll be fine; otherwise get an IDP
- book your camper van as early on as you can
- get a self-contained camper van since it allows for the most flexibility
- get your camper fully insured as most locals don’t have car insurance
- unless you’re super comfortable with stick shift, get an automatic van
- if you think you’ll be working remotely — don’t; disconnect and just relax
- download CamperMate and Rankers Camping NZ for searching campsites
- build a custom map in Google of locations and sites you want to visit
- bring clothes for all weather types because all of the weather occurs in NZ
- summer in south NZ isn’t summer; it’s rainy, windy, cold and overcast
- download a ton of music offline from Spotify for the drive
- bring an AUX cable to plug your phone into the stereo for the drive
- plan to do at least one adrenaline adventure activity while in NZ
- if you want to skydive in Queenstown, don’t; the weather isn’t predictable
- don’t over plan and instead just go with the flow, wherever it takes you

During your trip

- buy loads of bug repellent for sandflies
- buy anti-itch cream for after the inevitable, horrendous sandfly bites
- sandfly bites are 100x itchier than mosquito bites and last for longer
- ensure the gas and water work in your camper van before leaving
- you won’t really use your camper toilet, but buy toilet paper anyway
- visit a grocery store for non-perishable food items before embarking
- buy items good for hiking snacks (bread, tuna, fruits with peels, etc)
- buy a good amount of bottled water to have during the long drives
- many waterfalls and rivers actually have clean water to drink from
- cell phone service is spotty at best, but I found Vodaphone to be great
- take cash out for payments at campsites that are cash only
- most stores, bars and restaurants around the island take credit cards
- it’s best to camp at locations that have, at the minimum, public bathrooms
- you’ll end up showering once every 3–4 days, and that’s totally fine
- stay at a powered site every 3 or so days to recharge electronics and gear
- freedom camp when you can to save money and for gorgeous scenery
- take every single scenic route or road or highway you find along the way
- the east coast of NZ has many more dramatic cliffs and surf than the west
- on clear nights, lie on your back to take in the epic stars and Milky Way
- night drive to Milford Sound and sleep overnight there to beat the crowds
- when night driving, be prepared to hit A LOT of animals on the road
- prepare to hike a ton everywhere you go; it’s a must
- do some real, impromptu camping every chance you get
- unplug from the world save the camera and Google maps for navigation
- for every route you take, budget in another hour because of photo breaks
- meet the locals, engage with them and ask for tips when you can

Suggested driving route

- start on the east side, hug the coast and drive clockwise around the island
- begin in Christchurch and drive south on Highway 1
- visit the Oamaru blue penguin colony
- stop at the Moeraki Boulders and walk in the Jurassic Petrified Forest
- hang out and hike in the Orokonui Ecosanctuary for a day
- hike as much of The Catlins as your legs and feet can handle
- walk to the southernmost point of NZ for extreme winds at Slope Point
- explore the waters and forest around the Waipapa Point Lighthouse
- stand on the edge of the Cliffs at Fortrose to watch huge waves crash
- re-up for lunch in Invercargill
- have your jaw drop on the drive up through Fiordland National Park
- boat ride to the glow worm caves at sunset on Lake Te Anau
- night drive to Milford Sound and go through a mountain
- hike and do boat tours in the sound and Tasman Sea on a bluebird day
- freedom camp at Mt. Cook, wake at 4am and hike to the base for sunrise
- go all out on adventures in Queenstown for a couple days
- after your adventures eat at Fergburger — delicious and massive burgers
- hike the Routeburn track in Mt Aspiring—6 hours and 14 miles of legit fun
- hang out for multiple days in Wanaka — excellent hiking and water sports
- drive up to Franz Josef glacier, take a helicopter tour and revel in beauty
- race through Arthur’s Pass for stunning mountains
- photograph the Nelson Lakes north of Arthur’s Pass at both day and night
- take a day trip from Auckland to see the Waitomo Glow Worm caves
- check out the Hobbiton Movie Set, also a day trip from Auckland


“Happiness only real when shared.”

— Christopher McCandless, Into the Wild

Cassie Matias

Written by

Digital product design consultant at Grand Studio. Member of the Remote Year alumni crew. ±

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